Charles Darwin once said, “It’s not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most resilient and responsive to change.”
Change is not easy for most people, but it is inevitable. For many people, the first instinct is to fight back against the change. However, everyone and everything changes and those who learn early on to adapt, tend to have less anxiety and stress when it happens.
I consider myself adaptable, and for the most part I am a “go with the flow” type of person. However, there is one thing that really gets my blood pressure up and that’s any changes or issues with technology. Whether it’s a routine update to my cell phone, internet or Wi-Fi issues; anytime that technology doesn’t operate the way it’s supposed to I tend to lose my patience very quickly. Is it too much to ask that when you turn something on that it just does what it’s supposed to?
Change on a large scale is uncomfortable for most people. When you are used to things being a certain way, it can be difficult to see another path. When faced with the possibility that your normal may be adjusted, we tend to kick, buck, fight and hold on with all our might to avoid facing it. It’s instinctual and I don’t fault people for that, but at some point, we need to have some faith.
We were awarded a rare gift. We found a unicorn. We won a $10 million-dollar grant to revitalize the downtown area of the City of Norwich through the NYS Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) competitive grant competition.
The steering committee, led by Development Chenango Corporation and Commerce Chenango worked hard for over a year. We conducted surveys, spoke with business owners, talked to residents, elected officials, held focus groups and informational sessions to develop a list of projects that would be attractive to the state. It was difficult to get community interest and people to attend our sessions. I think it was partly due to COVID and partly because I think people didn’t really believe we would win. I get it, but that wasn’t the attitude those of us on the committee had. Throughout the process we kept saying “When we win …” Sometimes a positive attitude is all you have, and we had plenty to go around. In early December 2021, we found out that we were selected. Take that, Negative Nellies!
In addition to the number of projects outlined in the initial application, the Local Planning Committee (LPC) decided to invite the public to submit their ideas and proposals. Each project has a “Sponsor”, who is ultimately responsible for securing financing for the proposed project. Private projects are eligible to receive up to 40% funding through the grant (50% if they meet specific energy goals), and public/municipal projects can receive up to 100% funding. If awarded, the sponsor needs to have the financing in place to get the work done, as all projects are a reimbursement meaning you get the grant funds once the work is completed.
At the end of the “open call”, we had over $24 million dollars in requests! With only $10 million to spend, the committee now needs to narrow this down to about $15 million dollars’ worth of projects to submit to the state, who makes the final decision on project funding. More than the allocated amount is requested in case a project falls through or if the state does not agree; this way you have other projects to fall back on.
How can the LPC make this decision? We have a consultant that is helping us with project viability, scoped and budgets. In addition, we are looking for community input.
Projects range from updating and enhancing downtown buildings for apartments, mixed use spaces, rehabilitation of abandoned and empty buildings, streetscape improvements, updates to our downtown parks, parking lot improvements and a local fund for smaller projects and for downtown art.
Back in May, the LPC held a public workshop and invited members of the community to come hear more about the proposed projects, and to also give attendees the opportunity to “spend” $10 million-dollars through an interactive activity. Knowing we needed additional participation from the community, an interactive online survey was added to the DRI site which can be found at: www.norwichdri.com.
It's funny how the promise of money changes things. Back when we were trying to get community input it was difficult to get responses. Now that there’s a big pot of money, everyone wants a piece of it and they are doing anything they can to try and make sure that their project gets funded. Some have alluded to using misinformation and bullying without knowing what the truth is about other projects. I don’t know if it’s fear of competition, fear that there will never be another opportunity like this or just ignorance, but the past couple of weeks have been really disheartening. This should be a joyous time for our community, but instead it’s turning ugly.
Like any grant, this money is for a very specific purpose - revitalization. It is not to address water issues, potholes, or social issues like homelessness or drug addiction. Those things are very important but is not what this money is for and it’s not why we won the grant. We won because of the projects outlined in the application, and the additional investment that Norwich and Chenango County has done over the past few years. The DRI money will build off of that and create additional investment and jobs.
The Local Planning Committee will be making final recommendations to the state this July. To really understand what changes our community wants, we need your honest feedback and to do that you need to be informed and understand the goals of the DRI.
You can find the survey and additional information about the grant program online at: www.norwichdri.com.
Everything changes; help us, help you.
The views and opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of any entity that this author represents.